Sunday, December 29, 2013

NYC Parents and Elected Officials File Suit Seeking Injunction To Stop Bloomberg's 42 Co-locations

See also NY Post and DNA Info article here. 

For Immediate Release: December 29, 2013
Mona Davids, (646) 872-7149
Leonie Haimson, (917) 435-9329
Arthur Schwartz, Esq. (917) 923-8136

New York City Parents and Elected Officials File Suit Seeking Injunction
To Stop Bloomberg's 42 Recently Approved School Co-locations

New York City public school parents joined by Public Advocate-elect Letitia James and City Council members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Jumaane Williams, Margaret Chin and Ruben Wills filed a lawsuit on Friday, December 27, seeking to enjoin the New York City Department of Education ("DoE") from co-locating 42 public and charter schools as approved by the Panel for Educational Policy in October 2013.
The co-locations, slated to begin in September 2014, are the "last hurrah" from lame duck Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- a final push to impose his will on New York City public school parents and communities during the new Mayoral administration of Bill de Blasio.

Letitia James, Public Advocate-elect said, “As Public Advocate I intend to insure the role of parents and teachers, the people closest to the ground, in the educational process. Some of what we will need to do at the outset of the new administration is unravel the mess created by the outgoing Chancellor and a Panel on Educational Policy which simply did whatever the Mayor directed. These lawsuits are one step in that direction. They will allow us to quickly annul Mayor Bloomberg's effort to set educational policy for years to come, at least when it comes to the overcrowding caused by co-locations, and the favored treatment of charter schools. I look forward to settling these cases with the new Schools Chancellor.”
Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters said: "This lawsuit is especially valuable as it is the first to point out how inadequate the educational impact statements developed by the DoE have been in completely omitting the likely impact on class size of these numerous co-locations and ignoring how the resulting overcrowding of schools will in many cases lead to building code violations. I would like to thank Advocates for Justice for their work in protecting the rights of NYC students not to have their education severely damaged by these irresponsible and politically motivated co-locations, devised by a lame duck Mayor in his last months in office."
Arthur Z. Schwartz, President of Advocates for Justice, the public interest law firm representing the Petitioners,expressed a "hope that the new Mayor will use these lawsuits as a means to review and reconsider the policy decisions which the Bloomberg Board of Education tried to foist on him." 
Schwartz continued: "It would be far preferable for the new Department of Education leadership to put all of the planned actions on hold, and engage in a careful review of co-locations put into place since 2012. It is time for contention between parents and the Department of Education to end and it is time to stop shoving aside the needs of the majority of the children in our schools so that the DOE can 'prove' that charter schools are a better alternative. It is time to figure out how to reduce class size instead of using $100 million per year to give free space to charter schools.”
Mona Davids, a public school parent and President of the NYC Parents Union said:  "For too long, parents have been ignored by Mayor Bloomberg and the Panel for Educational Policy. This lawsuit seeks to undo public and charter co-locations approved in October 2013.  It is unfortunate that the only way for parents to be heard is through the courts. We hope Mayor-elect de Blasio rescinds these co-locations and begins a real dialogue with parents and community members in determining what is best for our children."

Margaret Chin, City Council Member of district 1 in Manhattan stated, “Co-locations in my district have put a serious strain on school resources and space in my district for little benefit to the students in my community. I have witnessed them get approved through a rubber stamp process that leaves no room for genuine community input. It’s time to put a halt to colocations, including those recently approved at great speed and with little deliberation, until the DOE can demonstrate why the colocations are actually necessary and how they will practically fit with the schools currently in the building.”

Jumaane Williams, City Council Member of district 45 in Brooklyn said, "Forced co-locations throughout the New York public school system remains one of the most controversial policies carried out by the current administration. I hope that the filing of these two lawsuits with give the incoming de Blasio administration the room to reconsider forced co-locations altogether due to the potential negative impact that they have on students throughout this city, particularly students with special needs. We must not rush into forced co-locations, and the public must have the chance to fully vet the proposals and understand they impact that they'll have on student achievement."

Ruben Wills, New York City Council Member of district 28 in Queens and a plaintiff in the state and federal lawsuits expressed that “every child in the New York City Public School System has the right to a sound and equal educational experience regardless of their social or economic status. It is imperative that the new administration is aware of the 42 co-locations, which were rushed with little if any consideration of the negative effects it would have on our children or the concerns of parents. Too many of our children are in overcrowded classrooms. How can we expect them to surpass State Testing mandates without adequate learning materials or access to a proper learning environment? The new administration, therefore, must revise and address the inadequacies in the Department of Education to secure our children’s educational future and success.”

Sullivan Thanks Scott Stringer for Support, Resigns from School Board

With Scott Stringer's inauguration as the Comptroller of the City of New York, my service on the Panel for Educational Policy as his appointee will come to an end.  I sent the letter below to formally resign and thank him for his years of support.   There are many others I owe thanks to as well.   As I had little experience of educational policy when I was appointed, I relied on many knowledgeable parents, students, teachers, administrators, journalists and academics to educate me on the issues and help me articulate the positions that were best for the students.  And finally, I'd like to thank my family for their patience and support.

December 26th, 2013

1 Centre Street, 19th Floor
New York, NY 10007

Dear Borough President Stringer,

Given the approaching end of your term as Manhattan Borough President and the fact that I serve at your pleasure on the Panel for Educational Policy, I wanted to formally resign in order to clear the way for Borough President-elect Brewer to make a new appointment. 

I also want to take a minute to thank you for your unique support for me as your appointee to the school board.  In an era when “government” was far too often assumed to be something imposed on the people by the city’s elites you preserved the democratic principle that ordinary people should have a role in how we are governed.   You encouraged me to serve as a conduit for input from the public school community, defended me when the administration asked for my removal for doing so and made clear you had only one absolute requirement – that I represent all the people.

Public education can only be successful when the families it serves share ownership in the schools and are engaged by the administration.   We are fortunate when we are represented by public officials like you whose leadership so clearly espouses these principles.

Thank you,

Patrick J. Sullivan
Manhattan Representative
Panel for Educational Policy, NYC Board of Education

Hon. Gale Brewer
C. Bailey, Board of Education Retirement System

Friday, December 27, 2013

Our nine most popular posts in 2013

Here are our most viewed nine posts from 2013.  As you can see, most relate to inBloom and student privacy, the Common Core tests, and to my surprise, StudentsFirst.  Hoping that next year we will have an even more diverse selection of issues and topics!

 (Apr 17, 2013)

 (Nov 13, 2013)

(Jan 7, 2013)

(Nov 30, 2013)

(Dec 12, 2013)

(Aug 7, 2013)

(March 18, 2013)

(Nov. 9. 2013)

(Jan. 18, 2013)

Best and worst education news of 2013

Here’s a brief look back at the best and worst education news of the past year.   
These are the six best, from my perspective of course; please put your nominations in the comment section below!
1. The nationwide revolt against excessive, hi-stakes and low-quality testing grew stronger, which will only further intensify as other states adopt the Common Core aligned exams, as occurred this year in New York – which has prompted huge parent protests and a growing opt out movement.  
2. The opposition to the rigid and developmentally inappropriate Common Core standards was increasingly evident among experts and educators left, right and center.  Critics have rightfully asked, where is the evidence for these standards, why weren’t they piloted before being imposed on the nation, and why were so few educators and parents involved in their development? 
3. Prompted by the behemoth of inBloom Inc., along with the NSA surveillance scandal, there was a  rising awareness among parents of how schools, districts and states have been sharing their children’s personal data with a wide array of vendors without their consent.  See this important report, just published by Joel Reidenberg of Fordham Law School, which surveyed district practices and found huge problems in the care with which they treated highly sensitive data. The widespread sharing of personal student data without consent was facilitated by the US Ed Department, which eviscerated the regulations pertaining to student privacy in 2008 and 2011 – but as this blog post argues, the federal law known as FERPA itself was inadequate given the technological developments of the 21st century.  Yet even as eight of nine states have now pulled out of inBloom, and with New York (hopefully) withdrawing under pressure in 2014 (be sure to sign the petition!), the myriad threats to student privacy through states and districts amassing huge amounts of personal student data and providing it to third parties for a variety of purposes is not going away – as our analysis of and the ALEC anti-privacy bills also suggests.
4. Candidates were elected from coast to coast – including Bill de Blasio as NYC’s mayor, Monica Ratliff and Sue Peters to the Los Angeles and Seattle school boards respectively, who appear to understand the damage done to our public schools by the current fad of free-market competition, unregulated privatization, and high-stakes testing.  They have pledged to fight for reforms proven to work, like expanding access to preK and smaller classes.  Their opponents may have outraised and outspent them, sometimes by more than ten to one – but the grassroots appeal of their independence from the corporate reform agenda propelled them to victory nonetheless.
5. Diane Ravitch’s new book, “Reign of Error” led the way in making an intellectually rigorous and convincing argument about the deep flaws in this agenda and a convincing case about the right reforms that would make a positive difference for schools.  At the same time, her new organization, Network for Public Education, (full disclosure: I’m on the board) launched, and is working to help support more candidates with the courage and the brains to work for the ability of all kids to attend quality public schools --rather than promoting the Darwinian universe represented by the school closing/teacher firing/ “no excuses” posture; or as Diane has called it, the “Donald Trump approach to school reform: You're fired!”
6.  The ed tech bubble burst; with revelations of huge MOOC dropout rates, iPAD disasters in LA, Amplify tablets dysfunction in North Carolina, and the report that the much-hyped Dreambox software that propelled Rocketship charters to the top of the privatizer charts was nothing more than a babysitting exercise to allow teachers to spend time with smaller groups of students while the rest of the bunch were engaged in rote online exercises.  Increasingly, the so-called “personalized” learning movement was unmasked as depersonalized learning –promoted by the same bunch of propagandists who inveigh against smaller classes – the only strategy that enables truly personalized learning to occur.

The four worst developments of 2013:   

  • Class sizes continue to grow nationally; and in NYC, are the largest in 15 years in the early grades, despite a state law passed in 2007 that required the city to be reducing class size in all grades.  This is what I think of as Michael Bloomberg’s and Joel Klein’s greatest crime against the city’s kids -- and one that won’t be easily reversed by our new mayor.  I write about this more in this month’s Indypendent, Grading the Education Mayor.  Here is a press release from the Education Law Center ,which places more of the blame on the state, but the two are actually complicit in denying NYC kids to their right to an adequate education.
  • We’re still fighting inBloom and a totally reckless and feckless State Education Dept. in New York.  Even as Michael Bloomberg’s devastating regime may be behind us, Commissioner King is attempting to replicate every one of Bloomberg’s misguided policies – including curriculum-narrowing high-stakes testing, an inherently unreliable and morale-busting teacher evaluation system, and dangerous and expensive data collection and sharing–all based upon an underlying false theory that children, teachers and schools can be defined, measured and motivated in terms of test score data.   
  • Foundations continue to meddle while using their wealth to subvert democratic governance and the media,  like the  Gates-funded Regents fellows making policies in New York– or the Gates-funded Ed Lab, working out of the Seattle Times, that will be provided with a wealth of personal student data  without appropriate safeguards or parental consent. 
  •  The NY Times continues to ignore the big education stories, or omits their critical relevance to what is happening here in NYC. The paper features a national story on class size and never mentions how the children in the NYC public schools are suffering from the largest classes in 15 years.  They publish a long story on inBloom while devoting only three sentences to New York’s participation – and omit any mention of the fact that Joel Klein and Rupert Murdoch are also intimately involved in the scheme.  The recent Times story about the Fordham report on student data sharing and cloud storage features an interview with Ken Mitchell, Superintendent of S. Orangetown NY schools, who became involved in the issue of student privacy and “data creep” by leading the Superintendent rebellion against inBloom.  And yet the reporter never mentions his opposition or the inBloom project at all. All in all, the NY Times seems determined to turn a blind eye to how various anti-education and anti-privacy policies are putting at risk the children in the paper’s own backyard – as well as ignoring how these policies benefit the private interests of New York’s well-connected plutocrats.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Please help us fight for small classes & student privacy in 2014!

Class Size Matters is an organization with a large reach but a small budget.  We count on donations from individuals as our main source of funding.  To continue our efforts on behalf of children’s right to small classes, we need supporters like you to give a tax-deductible contribution by clicking here or sending a check to the address below.

In addition to the critical issue of class size, this year we have focused on protecting student privacy from the corporation called inBloom Inc.  I have been called “the nation’s foremost parent expert on inBloom and the current threat to student data privacy.”

We were the first advocacy group in the nation to sound the alarm about inBloom’s plan to create a multi-state database with as much personal student information as possible, to be stored on a vulnerable data cloud run by and an operating system built by Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify.  The explicit goal of inBloom was to package this information in an easily digestible form and offer it up to data-mining vendors without parental consent.

In February, inBloom formally launched as a separate corporation, and nine states were listed as “partners.”  We worked hard to get the word out through blogging, personal outreach to parent activists and the mainstream media.  After protests erupted in states throughout the country, one by one of inBloom’s “partners” pulled out.  Now, eight out of these states have severed all ties with inBloom or put their data sharing plans on indefinite hold.

Sadly, New York education officials are still intent on sharing with inBloom a complete statewide set of personal data for all public school students– including their names, addresses, phone numbers, test scores and grades, disabilities, health conditions, disciplinary records and more.  To stop this, we helped to organize a lawsuit on behalf of NYC parents which will be heard in state court on January 10, calling for an immediate injunction to block the state’s plan.

In addition, two bills passed the Assembly last session that would require parental consent or opt out before State officials could hand over student data to inBloom, and Senator Flanagan, chair of Education committee, has recently called for an immediate one year moratorium on the state disclosing data to inBloom.

No matter what happens in court or in the legislature this year, our campaign to stop inBloom and protect student privacy will continue, as will our work to ensure that parental consent is required before any sensitive personal data is shared with third-party vendors.  Because as we have learned, inBloom is just the tip of the iceberg – the most visible evidence of the insatiable appetite of companies to collect and use our children’s data for private gain.

In addition, we will continue our work on the critical issue of class size.  As a result of our reports, testimonies and public outreach, we have been able to shine a bright light on what many consider to be the most shameful aspect of Mayor Bloomberg’s education legacy: the fact that class sizes
in NYC have increased sharply over the last six years and are now the largest in the early grades since 1998.

Class sizes have increased every year, despite the fact that the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case was supposedly “settled” by a state law in 2007 that required NYC to reduce class sizes in all grades.  As a result, 86% of NYC principals say they are unable to provide a quality education because classes are too large.  Parents say that smaller classes are their top priority according to the Department of Education’s own surveys.  There is no more critical need than smaller classes if the city’s children are to have an equitable chance to learn.

But class size is not just a critical issue in NYC public schools.  Because of budget cuts, class sizes have risen sharply throughout the state and the nation as a whole.  In more than half of all states, per-pupil funding is lower than in 2008 and school districts have cut 324,000 jobs.

At the same time, there is more and more money being spent by billionaires and venture philanthropists on bogus “studies” to try to convince states and districts that class size doesn’t matter and public funds should be spent instead on outsourcing education into private hands – despite much rigorous research showing the opposite to be true.

With vendors trying to grab your child’s data in the name of providing “personalized” instruction – a euphemism that really means instruction delivered via computers and data-mining software in place of real-life teachers giving meaningful feedback in a class small enough to make this possible -- our efforts are more crucial than ever before.

Please make a donation so that our work can continue and be even more effective in 2014.

Thanks for your support and a Happy New Year,
Leonie Haimson, Executive Director

Thursday, December 19, 2013

My inBloom presentation at last night's Hudson Valley Community College Common Core forum

credit:  Meredith Gavin via Twitter
Last night, there was a terrific forum on privacy and the Common Core at Hudson Valley Community. It was a pleasure and a privilege for me to be able to have time to brief legislators and those in the audience on what I have learned about inBloom over the last year, and to answer their questions.  

The forum was hosted by Assemblymember Steve McLaughlin, and  the panel also included Assemblymembers Al Graf, Jim Tedesco, Pete Lopez, Ed Ra and Patricia Fahey; the event was also moderated by principal Tim Farley. The powerpoint I delivered is below; below that is a YouTube video of the entire event.

On theYouTube video below, the forum starts at 11 minutes in.  My presentation starts at 22:50 minutes in, and I answer questions from legislators and the audience until 1 hour and 15 minutes in.

At about 1 hr 44 min, Dr. Sandra Stotsky speaks about the Common Core through Skype.  Dr. Stotsky is the designer of the highly esteemed Massachusetts standards in English Language Arts; and was a member of the expert panel that reviewed the Common Core standards.  She refused to sign onto them because of their poor quality. During the forum, she calls for civil disobedience for opting out of Common Core exams and field tests next spring, and asks the elected officials to pass legislation allowing parents to opt out.

At 1 hr: 55 min. Meredith Gavin, a parent of a a high-functioning autistic child, talks about how inappropriate and damaging the Common Core and its exams are for special education students.  Unfortunately, a subsequent speaker, Paul Snyder, repeats a common myth that the Common Core was developed by left-wing radicals -- though this is completely untrue.

One of the best testimonies is from Katie Zahedi, a principal for 12 years, at 2 hr:30 min in, who explains many of the flaws with the policies of the State Education Department, including how the privately funded Regents Fellows are "running the show" even though many of them have never been educators.

Parents respond to Speaker Silver and Assembly call to halt inBloom

Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the NYS Assembly, has called for an immediate delay in the State Education's plan to share personal student data with inBloom; the press release is here.

"It is our job to protect New York's children. In this case, that means protecting their personally identifiable information from falling into the wrong hands," said Silver. "Until we are confident that this information can remain protected, the plan to share student data with InBloom must be put on hold." 

Fifty Assemblymembers signed a letter to Commissioner King, expressing their continuing concern with the the state's plan: "We do not believe the State Education Department should share this information with inBloom, especially at this time."  Our press release about this latest development and the Assembly letter is below.

For immediate release: December 19, 2013

For information contact: Leonie Haimson: 917-435-9329, 
Donald Nesbit: 646-373-0779


Parents and Community members thank Speaker Silver and the Assembly

calling for a halt to data-sharing with inBloom and hope that Commissioner King and the Regents will listen

Today, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Assembly Education chair Cathy Nolan, and forty nine other members of the Assembly expressed their deep concerns about student privacy and asked Commissioner King to immediately suspend his plan to share personal student data with inBloom Inc.  Their press release with a link to the letter is here:

Said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, “We deeply thank the Speaker, Assembly Education chair Nolan and the other legislators who signed onto this letter, and all others who have spoken out against this devastating plan.  They have listened to the protests of parents, and the overwhelming consensus that the sharing of children’s personal data with inBloom is an unprecedented violation of student privacy and basic parental rights.  I hope the Commissioner and the Regents listen to the Speaker and our other elected officials, and pull out of inBloom immediately, as they have so far refused to do.”

InBloom is a non-profit corporation, funded with $100 million from the Gates and Carnegie Foundations, with an operating system built by Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.  The data is being uploaded on a cloud run by, despite the fact that most technology professionals do not trust data clouds for their sensitive data.   Last month, NYC parents sued to block the uploading of this data, with arguments to be heard in state court on January 10.  Two bills passed the Assembly last session unanimously that would halt the state from sharing data with inBloom without consent or give parents the right to opt out. 

Last week, Senator John Flanagan, chair of the Senate Education Committee, called for an immediate moratorium for any data-sharing on the part of the State Education Department.  Yet as of yesterday, State Education Department officials said they would not hold off uploading a student names and other personal data past January 22.  

According to Tricia Joyce, chair of the Youth and Education Committee of Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan, “We all have much for to be grateful to Assembly Speaker Silver. He listens to his constituency and consistently advocates for them, visibly bettering the lives of all of our New York City and State families. InBloom posed an immediate and significant threat to our New York State student’s privacy, and also served as a dangerous precedent in how we handle data of this kind in the internet age.”

Over the course of the last year, eight out of the nine states originally identified as inBloom’s “partners” have severed all ties with the company or put their data-sharing plans on indefinite hold,.  In a recent survey, 75% of elected school board members in New York opposed this plan, and 78% say parents should be allowed to opt out.  More than forty Superintendents have returned federal Race to the Top funds in hope of protecting student privacy, but the Commissioner says he will ignore their wishes and upload their student data to the inBloom cloud anyway. 

Karen Sprowal, a parent with a child in a NYC public school and a plaintiff in the lawsuit to block inBloom, said: “Elected officials from both parties, school board members, parents and educators throughout the state have been appalled at the Commissioner’s plan to share intimate and confidential student data without parental notification or consent with inBloom and for-profit vendors.  This data would include my child’s name, address, phone number, test scores, grades, economic and racial status, any disability or health problem he might have, as well as highly sensitive disciplinary records.  I have been outraged as has every parent I have spoken to about this.  In fact, there is no parent in the world who wants their child’s confidential information uploaded on a data cloud vulnerable to breaches, or disclosed to vendors.  The fact that Commissioner King has continued to ignore the objections of parents and elected officials is an abomination and must end.”

Paul Hovitz, a retired teacher and co-chair of the Community Board 1 Youth and Education Committee commented, “On behalf of our children, parents, and community, I wish to commend Speaker Silver and Assembly Democrats for recognizing the hazards caused by releasing students’ personal statistics into an internet cloud. Their action today in calling for an immediate suspension of this plan is in the best tradition of our elected officials.” 

Donald Nesbit, a parent plaintiff in the lawsuit and Local 372-AFSCME Executive Board Member, concluded: “We pray that the Speaker’s statement will finally pierce the bubble that Commissioner King and the Regents have been inhabiting over more than a year, since the news first broke about their plan to share our student’s personal data with inBloom.  It would be the best holiday present that any parent with a child in the public schools could receive, to learn that the state finally halted this reckless and outrageous plan.  Even though New York would still be the last state to withdraw, better late than never I always say.”

Mona Davids, a parent plaintiff in the lawsuit and President, New York City Parents Union said:  "We are relieved that our legislators are putting our children first and taking action to protect student data. We hope our legislators move quickly and pass legislation requiring parents be respected and given the ability to opt out of any data sharing."